For those of you within striking distance, you may like to know that the Norton Way Gallery in Letchworth is having it's annual spring show, with fresh new work from all the owner's resident artists on display to suit the season. I sent off another clutch of small birds and critters for the event, and the oak tree which appeared in a previous post.
The bullfinches are painted on 245gsm parchment paper from Shepherds Falkiners stationers in London. It's an interesting surface, less expensive than vellum of course, but with some similar characteristics. Including it's waxy texture, translucency, and unfortunately tendency to buckling -as demonstrated on the bullfinch (top left), where I appplied a drop too much mordant under the gold leaf. Caveat emptor. The third miniature in my 'Tsushigahana Dragon' series, the Fire Belly Toad, is painted on real vellum with calligrapher's gilding
The coaltits and long tailed tits are a a warm up for something larger, and are painted on Fabriano Artistic 600 gsm. This is a super-smooth hot press paper, so heavy it needs no stretching, which botanical artists love. Sadly I'm told that Fabriano have changed their process and the these days it has a slight texture, so when my little stock is used up I'm sunk. As these pieces are fairly rigid and intended for glass framing, I used some aqueous shellac in the painting of them. The recipe for this was given to me by Gloria Thomas, the artist who runs the Apocalypse Art Prize in the USA which I won a few years' back. She uses it as a sealant on paper to create a surface for oil painting, Naturally it needs a longer drying time than the smelly alchohol shellac solution you buy in a bottle.
This is the slowest moving series in the history of art, but every so often I feel like painting a wonderful old tabby tom just like the one called Tim which my grandparents had years ago. This sneaky fellow stalking in the long grass is waiting for a frame. One of his former incarnations is in Australia now, where he can stalk more exotic prey than ever frequented my grandparents' suburban garden.
Oh taste and see, how gracious the Lord is. Just before Christmas truly begins, let me post this with all my kind wishes to friends and clients. I am offering special prayers this year for several who are suffering sad events amid all the festivities.
In recent decades we've seen a revival of interest in the devotional use of icons in the West, and I like to think that icons are doing more to bring about mutual understanding between Eastern and Western churches, and heal the great Schism of 1054, than a thousand years of conferences and theological debate. People are also experiencing a revived taste for the more austere artistic styles of the pre-Schism era. It is a valid argument that too much surface 'prettiness' is a distraction from the inner meaning and true purpose of the image. So human nature being as it is, debates over what constitutes a 'real' icon tend to rage, with combatants proclaiming one style spiritually superior to another according to their personal aesthetic and/or cultural bias. A cautious glance into the online discussion forums reveals furious verbal coshing about who should be permitted to paint icons and how, and much finger-wagging and invocation of church Canons about the making of them, None of these 'Canons' actually exist. Theologians of the early church discussed the use of the image, and certain conventions and guidelines have come down to us through tradition and painters' manuals, but no hierarch ever actually sat down and wrote a rule book. Whilst I have my own thoughts on the spirituality and practise of iconography, I love the words of St John of Shanghai and San Francisco (1896 - 1966) which I recently ran across: "I can pray in front of this kind of icon; I can pray in front of that kind of icon. The important thing is that we pray, not that we pride ourselves on having good icons."
Another technical difference between the two styles is in the underpainting of the flesh. When painting in a 'Byzantine' style I shade the flesh with dark olive green, paint a tawny flesh tone over that topped by white highlights. The shading is less blended, the highlights often quite stylised. The effect also tends to be of a swarthier, mediterranean skin. In my 'Italianate' icons I shade with sepia and cover the flesh areas with a layer of cool green earth. Skin tones and highlights are painted over the green, and the effect is more of a paler, causcasian skin. This green underpainting of the flesh is very characteristic of medieval and Renaissance art: often the pink pigment used to put the roses in the face of the maddonna and angels has faded away leaving them looking a bit ill and anaemic. I wrote about this 'green sickness', and tooled gold work, in another blog post here.
In short, when I say 'Italianate', I intend nothing more than to indicate an iconographic style which is very popular with some and anathema to others, without - I hope - offending either. I will continue to experiment in the style, although the labour for the elaborate gilding is immense and one cannot really charge for the time involved.
So to finish with a little seasonal celebration, here are a few of the paintings I have labelled as Italianate or Sienese over the years.
I must also give a fanfare to the twelve students who attended my beginner's course in manuscript illumination and produced some amazing work. Very steady hands all, even the youngest attendee who was only eleven. Mainly dragons, but also a stray snake and a floreated initial, the students' own design. Sadly a tech failure meant that I lost most of the photographs I took at the second session but I have a few from the first, anonymous by request.
The view from my desk
Current work, places and events, art travel, and interesting snippets about Christian icons, medieval art, manuscript illumination, egg tempera , gilding, technique and materials.